Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Wild Hobby

Young yellow chanterelle mushrooms

Fall is upon us. I love this time of the year. I get to light the wood stove and feel the deep warmth cast from its belly. After observing the neatly piled cord wood dry and check all summer it is tremendously satisfying to see the results of your hard labor. Harvesting from ones own garden or buying locally grown produce from area farmers and processing it into fresh ingredients to eat in the fall is also very fulfilling. I also enjoy the cooler days for working, and wearing cozy warmer clothes. The feeling of a soft merino sweater against your skin while you enjoy fresh pressed coffee and a book in a cool house is like no other. The contrasting colors of the season in all it beauty makes every glance a potential piece of mind art.

White Chanterelle

Yellow Chanterelle

All these elements in the previous paragraph come together in my most satisfying and exciting event. The time of the chanterelle. Wandering the woods looking for these beautiful, bright fruits of the forest floor is something that I do as often as possible. I find satisfaction in finding a large one hidden beneath the detritus and moss. It is a treasure hunt without the fear of pirates or booby traps. Rain or shine, the promise of another mushroom potentially around the next stump keeps me looking. I can get "lost" in the woods for hours hunting and picking.

Young Yellow Chanterelle

The chanterelle is, in my opinion, the easiest of the wild mushrooms to identify. It may also be the most prolific. I know in my local area it is. The distinguishing features of Cantharellus cibarius include a bright orange cap, that is slightly concave especially when more mature, the gills and stem match the same color as the cap, and the gill are large and continue down the stalk. The stalk is also fibrous and doesn't snap like chalk when broken. The mushroom can get quite large, sometimes the cap can be as large as your palm. Smaller ones can seem as though the cap, gill and stalk have no defining border. I often encounter the yellow chanterelles cousin, the white chanterelle. It has the same distinguishing features as the yellow aside from the mushroom being totally white.

Most often you will find tight little ones earlier before there is much moisture, usually near the middle to end of August. As the fall rains re-hydrate the forest the chanterelle will grow larger with a more defined cap, stalk and gill. They are available to picking until the first hard frost freezes them and makes them mushy. I have found chanterelles growing with snow around them. This is a rare event but it can happen.

I am asked questions about general areas and likely terrain to hunt for chanterelles, and I laugh. I find them in areas where I expect to find them, such as mature second growth fir forests with little understory. I see them in strange places such as growing out of the gravel under alder trees on the side of a road or on the edge of a clearing in the direct sun. I usually explain that they will be where you least expect and not where you would expect. That keeps searching for the chanterelle interesting and exciting.

A nice cauliflower mushroom

I aspire to learn more species of wild mushrooms. I also identify cauliflower mushrooms, oysters, angel wings and morels when I find them. The cauliflower is delicious and very beautiful. It grows most often on rotten stumps. They are bright white and stand out in the dark forest. Morels are a springtime mushroom which I have found sparingly and I don't often go out targeting them. They have a wonderful nutty flavor that I adore. I find oyster mushroom and angel wings not very exciting to eat so I generally don't pick them. I am hoping to learn the boletus family, many of which are very edible and sought after. I have never successfully picked pine mushrooms and one day I will do so. Lobsters mushrooms are a species that I will pick given the chance.

Lobster Mushroom

I have referenced a book by David Aurora called "All the rain promises and more". It along with its more in-depth cousin "Mushrooms Demystified" by the same author are probably the most inclusive guides for the Pacific Northwest and I would suggest purchasing "All the rain promises and more" if you are interesting in self learning this fantastic hobby. I am always willing to talk mushroom and would like to experience teaching newbie the skills of the chanterelle harvest. I have successfully taught my daughter how to identify and properly cut the mushroom, as I was taught by my grandfather when I was six or seven. If you have any questions or interest please comment or email me.

I love the exercise and the fresh air whilst mushrooming. Wearing warm comfortable clothing that keep me dry while out in a rain storm, sharing the bounty with friends and family, coming home to a warm house and getting to experience the change of the season first hand ties mushroom hunting in with all the things I love about fall.

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